Thomas Couture was an 18th century French artist best known for his work, Romans in the Decadence of the Empire. At the center of the painting, a woman lays outstretched, drawing all eyes to her. Surrounding her are people engaged in all types of lascivious behavior, abandoning themselves to all the vices that supposedly led to the downfall of Rome. Positioned around the scene are five large statues representing men from Roman history, seeming to want a return to virtue.1
If we took this work of art and superimposed pictures of current celebrities, the scene painted may not be so shocking, but rather similar to what we are seeing in our own media today.
Recent days have seen an outrage, or at least a collective gasp, over the VMA performance of Miley Cyrus. There have been calls for prayer for Miley, condemnation of Miley, and people asking, “Whatever happened to that sweet Hannah Montana?” But, lest we forget, she is not the first person to start trending on Twitter for shocking behavior. It was only 6 months ago that we were all aghast over Beyonce’s outfit of choice (or lack thereof) during the halftime performance of the Superbowl, and it is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the world was rocked by the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss at the 2003 VMAs. Miley Cyrus’ twerking this past Sunday is just one more example of our culture’s decline in a long line of illustrative scenes. And, lest you believe that this only happens to celebrities, just do a little Facebook, Instagram, or Vine stalking and you will see teenagers all across America posting selfies and videos that would look strikingly similar.
Watching the questionable performances by many of today’s female artists, who seem to embrace their freedom as a license to objectify themselves and thereby devalue women, leaves me with questions. How do we recapture virtue in a world that tells us it is not valuable? Can we stop the slide into decadence that is reminiscent of pre-fall Rome?
How are we supposed to be women in a Miley Cyrus world?
Be Sad for young women who, like Miley, feel the need to sexualize themselves just to find recognition, meaning, and value. Be sad, because, what they find is far less than what they seek. Be sad, that someone has not guided, protected, and helped them to make wiser decisions that do not lead to a road of destruction. Be sad that many teen girls today feel the need to post pictures on social media outlets of themselves in few clothes, and compromising poses, to gain attention. Be sad, that most of these young girls just want someone to love them, and they that don’t believe anyone does.
Be Angry that this is not an isolated incident but that in a few weeks this will just be another blip on the radar screen and we will all move on with our lives. Be angry that women are being told that sexuality is the only way to grasp power and identity. Be angry that the adults in this world have failed many of our children. Be angry that our once “Christian nation” is now anything but.
Be Vigilant to impact and influence where you can. You may not be able to personally come alongside Miley Cyrus to introduce her to the One who can meet every need and guide her to become the woman she is created to be, but you can do so with your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece, and that little girl down the street or in your church who needs a “spiritual mama” in her life. We have been warned that there will be a day when there will be “scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires” (Jude 18, 2 Tim 3:1-7) but we are also instructed to “save others by snatching them from the fire” (Jude 23). If you are close enough to be able to snatch a girl from a fire, then you are close enough to be intentional not to let her fall prey to the messages that are sent through media. Talk to her. Ask her questions. Listen. And do all this with vigilant intention.
Be Faithful to the word and message of Christ. The noise of our culture has become so loud that the proclamation of the gospel can seem like it is being drowned out. Do not be fooled by this untruth, but remain faithful to live your life according to the word of God and proclaiming His truth wherever you are. Be faithful to fulfill the mission of God, making disciples. Be faithful to protect your own heart and mind, countering the lies of this world with the truth of His word.
The Miley Cyrus incident is just one more warning sound indicating the spirit of the age, and pointing toward the end times. We should not be surprised. Rather, we should be hunkering down to fight for the lives of our girls, doing all we can, to reclaim our values and virtues.
It is my prayer that 100 years from now, someone is not writing about an artist who is known for his work, Americans in the Decadence of a Nation. Rather, that this time, should the Lord tarry, will be known as the greatest spiritual awakening ever seen as the people of God said, “Enough is enough.” Let it begin with you and me.
1 Web Gallery of Art. http://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/couture/decadenc.html.